Testimonials feel a little bit like a product of a bygone age, a time when footballers would have to run a pub or something after they retired, with the proceeds from a friendly game in their honour helping them to adapt to life after the game.
Modern testimonials have taken on a different meaning, with top level footballers having gold-encrusted baths and stuff at home. They’re handed largely to players who have served one club with distinction and deserve to be honoured by its adoring supporters. So why was Wayne Rooney given one by Manchester United?
Rooney is a great player, but, as that famous t-shirt made perfectly clear, he grew up as an Everton fan. His only business at United, really, was that they were the club that would pay him the most money and offer him the best career path when he decided to move on from Goodison Park.
That isn’t to say that Rooney hasn’t been a fine servant to United, helping them to win numerous titles during his decade at Old Trafford, but it does mean that he has never had the affinity with the supporters that should earn you a testimonial.
Rooney’s presence at United has always been career driven and he has come close to leaving on numerous occasions when a potentially more lucrative opportunity seemed to appear elsewhere. This has led to an occasionally fractious relationship with the fans. So why should they be celebrating each other?
This is particular relevant in an era when testimonials are becoming more and more rare. Steven Gerrard got one at Liverpool, obviously, but neither Frank Lampard nor John Terry were given one when they reached ten years of service at Chelsea. Both enjoy far better relationships with the supporters of that club than Rooney does with the Old Trafford faithful.
The last Premier League testimonial came at the end of last season, with Mark Noble’s career at West Ham celebrated in one of the final matches at Upton Park. It was the perfect testimonial – a one-club local boy, adored by the club’s supporters, and a game involving both current players and legends that descended into chaos. Even goalkeeper Adrian scored a goal after a mazy run.
The fact that Rooney wasn’t really deserving of a testimonial didn’t seem lost on United, who arranged what was effectively a normal pre-season game against his former club Everton. No returning legends here and no wacky antics. Rooney wasn’t even allowed to score a last-minute, dubiously awarded penalty. It finished 0-0, a suitable result for a spectacle that should never have happened.